ON THE STREET: David Flores-At the Crossroads of Art, Commercialism and Philanthropy

Last week, upon gracing the Chipotle on La Brea and Melrose with my presence, I was walking in post sofritas bliss to the parking lot when this caught my attention:

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‘Gateway’ in progress on the east wall of the new restaurant Tatsu.

 A large dragon in various shades of gray and white circles the entire length of a side of a building perpendicular to Chipotle (which itself features the work of prolific graphic artist Mike Perry.

 Curling around, the dragon hugs the figure of an Asian man who becomes his counterpoint-they both pull equal focus. The dragon, dynamic and restless, the man serene and self-composed.  I instantly think of Bruce Lee. Apparently, I needed this confirmed looked around to see if there was anyone else to expound on this matter.

I observe an unassuming man texting in a pick-up truck parked next to me, in front of the mural. “Does this look like Bruce Lee to you?” I ask. He says no, that it is supposed to be no one in particular. I go back to looking at the mural but can’t contain myself. I ask him who the artist is and says his work reminds me of a certain artist…David Flores. 

As it turns out, this man is David Flores and he was in the midst of finishing this large commissioned piece. I ask him a little about his process and tell him I like the work as is. He tells me his murals often have a calm quality before the black definition is added in, when they take on a more dynamic quality. 

David’s work is unmistakeable. A trained artist, (he has a degree in graphic design) he has perfected a mosaic technique that is particularly stirring in his large-scaled murals to be found all over southern California and especially in  L.A., even in Japan where he is rather known for his previous work as a designer in the skateboard industry. 

His work features icons from pop culture. Appropriated in his style they take on a new life, an increased gravity. He has interpreted Salvador Dali, Don Quixote (for Quixote studios on La Brea), Nelson Mandela and Basquiat

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My chance encounter with muralist David Flores

Now finished, Gateway was inspired by Flores’s trips to Tokyo and was commissioned on behalf of his friend Ryu, who is opening an authentic tonkotsu ramen restaurant called Tatsu

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David Flores with Ryu in front of the completed ‘Gateway’ .Photo courtesy of davidfloresart.com

For the past year or so, I have been opening my eyes to the street art all around me in L.A. With humor a political bent or a refreshing take on pop cutlure, there is, in effect a street artist for every Angeleno: Raw and troublesome, formally educated or paid by corporations, political, lazy appropriation, spray paint…wheatpaste and even sculpture-the community of artists is diverse but their work is meant for the unexpected eye. 

The street artist serves a purpose-jolting us out of our reality, stirring our soul when we least expect it. This vigilante of art claims territory in the spaces between where we live and work. Spaces so often glazed over-we are in transit, we are eating, we are trying to get somewhere else. 

Commercialism has invaded every aspect of our modern lives. One could argue our senses are dulled and pretty soon we won’t be able to tell the difference between where the art begins and the selling ends. An alternative view is that the consumer has become smarter and can smell a rat…we expect higher quality from our sellers-greater creativity. The carnival barkers are everywhere and our ability to tune out is heightened. 

The general trend towards the handmade, the singular, has pushed businesses in a big city like Los Angeles to commission artists to create original works for their buildings and offices. Often these artists have roots in the underground street scene, or in the case of David Flores, who stopped me in my post-lunch tracks- from the skate industry, and industry that is at once commercial and subversive.

Indeed, with all the Instagramming, Pineteresting and Tumbling graphic art, especially as it is ever important as in the midst of our subjugation to commercialism we still seek individualism. “I want to go to that Chipotle. The one with the Mike Perry art.

Flores manages to straddle three worlds. Maintaining artistic integrity, while being able to make a living. He also gifts pieces which in the case of the work he did for Found Animals in Culver City, a non-profit animal shelter- uplifts its workers and brings impact to the cause. 

His gifted mural for the Los Prietos Boys Camp in Santa Barbara will serve to inspire young men who need it most. In an aesthetic that is clear, familiar and visceral to them. 

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‘Plant the Seed’ mural gifted by David Flores to Los Prietos Boys Camp. Photo courtesy of davidfloresart.com

Flores proves that an artist can be fluid:  Can make a living, contribute works that will have a direct impact all while maintaining artistic freedom. Stepping outside of the gallery and onto the sidewalk, paying attention to what we are being sold, seeing the possibilities in every alley and wall… this is the legacy of the street artist. 

A look into the artist’s process. A David Flores mural of Johnny Cash goes up at The Viper Room: http://vimeo.com/76089297

For more information: 

http://www.davidfloresart.com

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